Over the years, there has been a lot of grief thrown Stan’s way about taking sole credit as the “creator” of most of the characters and titles in the Marvel Universe. It has been said that he’s denied people like Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Dick Ayers, and many others what they were due. And, while the BIG problem really is that Marvel the COMPANY considers all the material to be “work for hire” and so the COMPANY is the only one that makes money off the movies, video games, and international licensing deals … Stan’s bombastic self-promotion made a much easier target for fans’ ire.
The funny thing is, I’ve never heard Stan ever deny the importance of the artists, or whitewash their collaborative efforts. (And I’ve heard and read A LOT of interviews with Stan over the years.) It’s just that, when push comes to shove, he still says that HE is the creator of Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, the Hulk, and all the others.
I never really was able to reconcile that conflict — the fact that he freely praised his collaborators, but insisted on sole credit as “creator” — until I watched the Ditko documentary. In it, Jonathan Ross pokes at the issue (kindly, politely … but he’s definitely poking) trying to get behind Stan’s thinking, and eventually he gets there.
In brief (and you really should go back to that link and watch the interview yourself), Stan says that he believes that the guy who came up with the idea is the one who “created” the character. First there was nothing, then the guy with the idea has SOMETHING — that’s creation. Of course, he needs the artists to turn that “something” into what you see in the comic, but his perspective is that at that point, they’re working on something that’s already been created … they’re working to interpret it.
He ALSO says, quite passionately, that Steve Ditko did so much GREAT work that he deserves to be called the co-creator … and that Stan considers him to be the co-creator … but if push comes to shove, Stan still BELIEVES that he himself is the creator.
And the weird thing is, I see where he’s coming from. In fact, I very often fall into that trap when I talk about JIGG (the gamers network that I co-created while I was in Japan). When talking about JIGG, I will often refer to it as the group that “I created.” In fact, I did that a few months ago, and my thought process was pretty much the same as Stan Lee’s seems to be: I thought up JIGG, I created the idea, and the acronym, and gave the very first push that got the ball rolling. Therefore, when I talk about it, I’ll STILL sometimes say “I created JIGG.” All this despite the fact that, it would NEVER have gone anywhere without the efforts of Kevin Burns (who had created his own similar network and decided that joining forces to make one BIG group was the best course of action, selflessly adding the time, money, and effort he’d already invested to support our burgeoning new enterprise) and Mike Montesa (who took the idea of JIGG and breathed life into it by tirelessly promoting it among the Tokyo area gamers) and a bunch of other fine, giving, hard working folks who ARE the co-creators of JIGG.
When I say that I created the organization, I in NO WAY am trying to take credit away from anyone. I’m not even trying to aggrandize myself. I’m just remembering the moment when there was no JIGG, and then I thought of it — the name, mostly — and there it was. I created that. And so, when talking casually, I am STILL apt to say that “I created JIGG,” because THAT’S what I’m thinking about.
Of course, I realize that this demeans the work my friends did … so I TRY to remember to say “co-created” whenever I’m talking publicly. Because it’s fair and true. When we’re talking about the actual organization and everything it’s been over the past 20 years, my little moment of conceptualization is NOTHING compared to the actual hours of WORK the we ALL put in to make JIGG real … and that many people are STILL putting in to keep it a thriving organization.
Maybe that’s the big difference between Stan Lee and me (at least in this arena). He seems to be willing to concede that the artists “deserve to be called” co-creators even though they aren’t (in his mind, anyway). Where as I think my collaborators ARE co-creators, even though I still sometimes forget to say it.